National

22 people are missing in the West Coast wildfires, but it’s too dangerous to search for them

This photo taken by Talent, Ore., resident Kevin Jantzer shows the destruction of his hometown as wildfires ravaged the central Oregon town near Medford late Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. (Kevin Jantzer via AP via CNN)

(CNN) — The mammoth wildfires torching much of three states have already claimed 36 lives. Now, friends and families worry about 22 people missing as infernos in rural Oregon make it too dangerous to search for them.

Scott Fogarty has no idea what happened to his longtime friend George Atiyeh. But he knows what happened to Atiyeh’s property.

“His home was completely lost, and his shop,” Fogarty said, holding onto hope as well as photos of his friend.

But up and down the West Coast, more lives and homes are being destroyed as 87 wildfires burn, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. At least 25 of the wildfires are in California.

And as thick smoke fills the sky in much of Washington state, Oregon and California, the West Coast now has the worst air quality in the world.

Dozens of people killed or missing

At least 25 people have died in the California wildfires. The most deadly, the North Complex Fire, has claimed 15 lives and grown to more than 260,000 acres across four counties.

On Monday, the Butte County Sheriff’s office identified seven victims killed in Berry Creek, who ranged in age from 16 to 79.

Oregon and Washington have also lost victims as multiple fires fill the air with smoke and hamper visibility.

Nearly 1 million acres have burned in Oregon, according to the state’s fire dashboard.

“Sadly, we have now learned of 10 fire-related fatalities as confirmed by our state medical examiner. I am at a loss over these deaths,” Gov. Kate Brown said Monday.

As firefighters continue to battle multiple blazes, at least 22 people are missing in Oregon, the state’s Office of Emergency Management said Monday.

“If you’re concerned for missing family, please report that concern to the local law enforcement entity,” Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps said.

He also encouraged people who are evacuating to register with the American Red Cross so that officials and loved ones will know they are safe.

Virtually all of Washington is covered by ‘dangerous’ smoke

In Washington state, “virtually the entire state is covered by a cloud of smoke that’s unbelievably irritating, downright unhealthy and dangerous,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.

“We’ve had dozens and dozens and dozens of homes burned down, had entire towns destroyed.”

At least one child has been killed, the governor said.

Of the nine major wildfires burning in Washington state, the two largest — the Pearl Hill and Cold Springs fires — have collectively scorched more than 412,500 acres, according to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

‘”This is such a disaster in any dimension, but a particular disaster because we had our state turned into a tinder box by climate change,” Inslee said.

“We have grass now that’s almost like gasoline. A spark will make it explode. We have fires that just create walls of fire 20, 30 feet high from grass and sage brush.”

The fires from grass and sage brush has “consumed whole towns,” the governor said.

Malden, in eastern Washington, saw 80% of its buildings destroyed in a firestorm Labor Day weekend.

The blaze took out several homes and civic offices including the fire station, post office, city hall and library, the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office said.

‘Climate change is real’

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Washington’s Inslee have all reiterated that the fires in their states are the result of the climate crisis, disputing President Donald Trump’s claim that they’re the result of poor land management.

Newsom said that record-breaking temperatures and drought conditions, which have fueled the recent fires, have been going on for years because of climate change.

“Climate change is real,” said Newsom, who met with Trump on Monday.

“It’s about acknowledging science, not about believing in facts or not believing in facts, facts are facts. Science is science, it’s about acknowledging the science and acknowledging the facts,” he said. “The hots are getting a lot hotter, the dries are getting a lot drier.”

Newsom said he reminded the President that 57% of the forested land in the state of California is under federal jurisdiction, while just 3% is under the state’s control.

He said it should be the joint responsibility of the state and federal government to do more on vegetation management and forest management.

“We can’t do this alone,” Newsom said. “We’re going to need the federal government to step up in substantial ways.”

Garcetti echoed that sentiment Monday and said he believes Trump is blaming the state due to political motivations.

“Our federal agencies do step up and do help us and do know that we need their assistance,” Garcetti said.

“The leader at the very top continues based on the electoral map to either, you know, put down California for not raking enough,” he said.

“He (Trump) doesn’t say anything like that in a swing state. In the Gulf Coast, he doesn’t assign the blame for the hurricanes or anything that they have done. It seems partisan at a moment that we should be non-political and that we should be finding our common ground in America.”

“Denial doesn’t work when it comes to climate, ” Garcetti said. “The cost of denial is that people lose their lives and their livelihoods.”

Post offices close temporarily because of fires

Some United States Postal Service offices have had to temporarily close because of wildfires and high winds in the west, according to the USPS website.

Twelve locations have been shut down in both California and Oregon, and one location is closed in Washington.

The USPS website is directing customers to other locations to pick up their mail and packages.

MORE STORIES

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK